Nov. 20, 2004


by Hayden Carruth

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Poem: "Forty-Five," by Hayden Carruth, from Scrambled Eggs and Whiskey © Copper Canyon Press. Reprinted with permission.


When I was forty-five I lay for hours
beside a pool, the green hazy
springtime water, and watched
the salamanders coupling, how they drifted lazily,
their little hands floating before them,
aimlessly in and out of the shadows, fifteen
or twenty of them, and suddenly two
would dart together and clasp
one another belly to belly
the way we do, tender and vigorous, and then
would let go and drift away
at peace, lazily,
in the green pool that was their world
and for a while was mine.

Literary and Historical Notes:

It's the birthday of writer Deborah Eisenberg, born in Chicago (1945), best known for her short story collections: Transactions in a Foreign Currency (1986) and Under the 82nd Airborne (1992).

"I wish I were faster, and more fluent, but it just takes many months of scrabbling around in swampy territory to figure out what it is that I want. There's always a point at which I think I have a final draft, then I read it and ask myself, 'Why have I written this?' Then I go back and write it again and that's the final draft."

It's the birthday of South African novelist Nadine Gordimer, born in Springs, an East Rand mining town outside of Johannesburg, South Africa (1923). Her father was a Jewish jeweler originally from Latvia, and her mother was British. She went to a convent school where she started writing at the age of nine. Her first short story, Come Again Tomorrow (1938), appeared in a Johannesburg magazine when she was 15. By her 20's she had her first piece accepted by the New Yorker, which has been publishing her work ever since. Her sixteen collections of short stories and thirteen novels often explore the issue of race in South Africa, and deal with relationships among white radicals, liberals, and blacks. Her best known novel is probably The Conservationist (1974), which won the Booker Prize in Great Britain.

It's the birthday of journalist and commentator (Alfred) Alistair Cooke, born in Manchester, England (1908). He first came to the United States in 1932, on a scholarship to study theater at Yale University. He came back as a commentator on American culture and society with a weekly, 15-minute radio program, Letter from America, which began in 1946. It was broadcast to fifty-two countries on the BBC World Service, and was the longest running radio program in history. Cooke passed away earlier this year.

It's the birthday of cartoonist Chester Gould, born in Pawnee, Oklahoma (1900), creator of Dick Tracy, who first appeared in the Detroit Daily Mirror in 1931. Originally called Plainclothes Tracy, Dick was a clean-cut, square-jawed, plainclothes detective who faced an ugly assortment of villains with names like Mole and Pruneface. The comic strip also featured a "Crimestopper Notebook," which offered tips on crime prevention.

It's the birthday of astronomer Edwin Powell Hubble, born in Marshfield, Missouri (1889), for whom the Hubble Telescope is named. He went to Oxford as a Rhodes Scholar and received a law degree. He passed the Kentucky bar exam in 1913, but gave up practicing law after one year to return to Chicago for a doctorate in astronomy. "I chucked the law for astronomy," he said, "and I knew that even if I were second or third-rate, it was astronomy that mattered." Hubble went to work at Mount Wilson Observatory in Pasadena, where he discovered that there are other galaxies outside the Milky Way, opening up a whole new field of astronomy.

He later discovered that these distant galaxies were moving away from the Milky Way; in other words, the concept of the expanding universe, which has been called "the most spectacular astronomical discovery of the twentieth century."

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